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SECTION II.

ARGUMENT FROM THE MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION OF

JESUS CHRIST.

The narrative of this event is contained in the two first chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. And the miraculous birth of Christ is regarded by many as a considerable presumptive evidence of his pre-existence. But,

1. The narrative itself is of very doubtful authority. · The Ebionite gospel of Matthew and the Marcionite gospel of Luke did not contain these accounts : and both those sects maintained their own to be the uncorrupted, unmutilated copies of these evangelical histories.

From Luke iïi. 1, compared with ver. 23, it appears that Jesus was born fifteen years before the death of Augustus, that is at least two years after the death of Herod; a fact which completely falsifies the whole narrative contained in the preliminary chapters of Matthew and Luke.

If the relation given of the miraculous conception were true, it is utterly unaccountable that these extraordinary events should have been wholly omitted by Mark and John, and that there should not be a single allusion to them in the New Testament; and particularly, that in John's history, Jesus should be so frequently spoken of as the son of Joseph and Mary, without any comment, or the least hint that this statement was erroneous.

The Ebionites, who were Hebrew and Unitarian Christians, and the Gnostics, who were philosophizing Gentile believers, who differed from each other in almost every other opinion concerning the person of Christ, agreed in disbelieving the miraculous conception. There was nothing in the peculiarities of these sects which should render them averse to this opinion. Both would naturally have been pleased with any circumstance which would have exalted the dignity of the founder of their faith : but both these sects had their origin in the apostolic age, and had probably at that time never heard the report.

Also, if the facts related in the account of our Lord's nativity were true ; viz. the appearances of angels, the star in the East, the visit of the Magi, the massacre of Bethlehem, &c. they must have excited great public attention and expectation, and could not have failed to have been noticed by contemporary writers, who nevertheless observe a total silence on the subject.

2. The miraculous conception of Jesus would no more infer his pre-existence, than the miraculous formation of our first parents, or the miraculous conception of Isaac, of Sampson, of Samuel, and of John the Baptist, would prove that these persons had an existence before they came into this world, and were beings of a superior order to the rest of mankind'.

See upon this subject Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opinions, yol. iv. book iji. chap. 20. Also the Notes, in the Improved Version of the New Testament, on the Prefaces of Matthew and Luke,

SECTION

SECTION III.

TEXTS EXAMINED WHICH ARE CONCEIVED TO EX

PRESS IN THE MOST DIRECT AND UNEQUIVOCAL TERMS THE PRE-EXISTENCE OF JESUS CHRIST.

The writers of the New Testament are commonly reckoned eight. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude. Of these writers six, viz. Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, Peter, and Jude, are generally allowed to have advanced nothing upon the subject of the preexistence, and superior nature and dignity of Jesus Christ. At least it will be admitted that, if there be any allusions in these writers to this extraordinary fact, they are so faint and obscure that, independently of the rest of the New Testament, they would not of themselves have proved, per. haps not even suggested the idea of, the pre-existence and divinity of Christ. The credit of these facts depends wholly upon the testimony of John and Paul.

Of the six writers who make no mention of the preexistence and divinity of Jesus Christ, three are professed historians of the life, the miracles, and the doctrine of Christ; and one continues his history to upwards of thirty years after our Lord's ascension; and relates many interesting particulars of the lives, the sufferings, and the doctrine of the apostles, the subjects of their preaching, the miracles which they performed, and the success of their mission. But neither the history nor the discourses of Christ, nor those of his apostles for thirty years after his ascension, contain the least hint of his pre-existent state and dignity. But how can this total silence be explained and account

ed

ed for, if the popular doctrine concerning the pre-existence and divinity of Christ is true? Is it credible, or even possible, that three persons, in different places and at different times, should undertake to write the history of Christ, each meaning to communicate all that was necessary to be known, with their minds fraught with the overwhelming idea that the person whose history they were about to write was a superior Being, a great angel, the Creator of the world, or the Almighty God himself in human shape, and that the belief of this great mystery was necessary to the salvation of their readers; and yet through the whole of their narrative should abstain from mentioning or even glancing at this stupendous fact ? How would a modern Arian or Trinitarian have acted in similar circumstances? Would he have left his readers under the impression which necessarily results from the perusal of the three first evan. gelical histories and that of the Acts, viz. that the founder of the christian faith was a man like to his brethren, and only distinguished from them as the greatest of the prophets of God, who had been raised from the dead and exalted to the right-hand of the Most High ?—That six of the writers of the New Testament should have observ. ed such a profound silence upon a subject of which their hearts must have been so full, and with which their imagination must have been so overpowered, may well induce a considerate mind to pause, and to reflect whether this could have happened if Jesus of Nazareth were in truth a being of high, perhaps the highest order in the universe?

Athanasius, Chrysostom and others accounted for this extraordinary silence from the great prudence of the evangelists, and their unwillingness to give offence to the new converts; but this is a supposition which will not now satisfy an inquisitive mind 1.

See Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opinions, book iii. chap.4,5,6.

The

SECTION II.

ARGUMENT FROM THE MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION OF

JESUS CHRIST.

The narrative of this event is contained in the two first chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. And the miraculous birth of Christ is regarded by many as a considerable presumptive evidence of his pre-existence. But,

1. The narrative itself is of very doubtful authority. · The Ebionite gospel of Matthew and the Marcionite gospel of Luke did not contain these accounts : and both those sects maintained their own to be the uncorrupted, unmutilated copies of these evangelical histories.

From Luke iii. 1, compared with ver. 23, it appears that Jesus was born fifteen years before the death of Au. gustus, that is at least two years after the death of Herod; a fact which completely falsifies the whole narrative contained in the preliminary chapters of Matthew and Luke.

If the relation given of the miraculous conception were true, it is utterly unaccountable that these extraordinary events should have been wholly omitted by Mark and John, and that there should not be a single allusion to them in the New Testament; and particularly, that in John's history, Jesus should be so frequently spoken of as the son of Joseph and Mary, without any comment, or the least hint that this statement was erroneous.

The Ebionites, who were Hebrew and Unitarian Christians, and the Gnostics, who were philosophizing Gentile believers, who differed from each other in almost every other opinion concerning the person of Christ, agreed in disbelieving the miraculous conception. There was no

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